Niamh Parsons - The Old Simplicity
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Niamh Parsons with Graham Dunne
The Old Simplicity
Green Linnet (www.greenlinnet.com)

"For all their songs are sad." So Parsons sings about the Irish on the album's last cut, one of many anti-war songs among other somber themes on this mixture of new and old folk. Individual tracks shine, especially in the latter third of the album, but too many sluggishly paced tunes early and midway hobble the pace. Parsons and her guitarist, Graham Dunne, do intersperse his instrumentals regularly into the sequence, so the duo are aware of the need to vary the assortment. Her voice avoids June Tabor's sultriness or Jacqui McShee's pierce or Sandy Denny's purity. Yet Parsons, like her influences, leaves behind her traditional roots. Fittingly, Parsons covers "He Fades Away," a song about a wife caring for her dying mate, that Tabor had sung on Against the Stream. Like Tabor, Parsons downplays folk for a more eclectic, if leaner, delivery of contemporary songwriters' contributions. Fans of Tabor may applaud The Old Simplicity, but Parson's livelier past three albums outshine these po-faced selections.

The fate of WWI's youngest soldier (who enlisted at twelve to get a pair of boots), a 1917 French prostitute's reflections on her doomed clientele, a wife's view of her husband's alcoholism, two songs about asbestos-plagued miners, the fate of the San Patricio Battalion who fought against the US in the Mexican War: these are only some of the downbeat subjects. While Parsons has chosen intelligent protests by Linda Thompson, Kieran Halpin, Alastair Hulett, David Olney, Maria Dunn, and Ron Kavanagh, dirges darken it. Full of smart ideas, but for music, listen to earlier solo albums. Ascetically arranged and sparely recorded, too many of these thirteen songs leave a listener maudlin over what feels longer than its forty-five minutes. - John L. Murphy

Available from cdroots.com

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